Furthering cooperation needs better perceptions

By Zhang Lijuan
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, May 21, 2011
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Three years ago, when the first round of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) took place, both nations began to search for the right venues to improve Sino-US relations. This year, the latest round of the SE&D involved military leaders for the first time, reflecting improving and changing perceptions on both sides. Improving perceptions will help both sides trust each other and deepen further cooperation.

China's self-image and Americans' perception of China are two critical issues for China. The former is mostly a reflection of the Chinese history, culture and people. Recently, China has been somewhat overconfident, most likely because of its economic growth. But scholars point out that China still has a long way to go in realizing its social development goals. There are an increasing number of destabilizing factors, such as high inflation, growing unemployment and lagging rural development, which may seriously jeopardize China's future development.

Some Americans foster a perception of China that is characterized only by its fast economic growth. There are some who are skeptical and suspicious of China's rising status and social regime. These are incomplete perceptions of China. Both China's perception of itself and the US's perception of China will inevitably cast a significant shadow on relations.

Furthermore, most Chinese ignore how others perceive them. The typical Chinese person does not know, understand or care how the rest of the world thinks of China. And this is one of the fundamental issues that make China's globalization costly, and it has even lead to misunderstandings on China's diplomacy. The S&ED is a good resource for China's next generation to understand US-China relations. It is particularly important to educate young Chinese and to shift their perceptions a little to create a better understanding of a rising China and hegemonic US.

GDP does not mean much to China's hard power at this stage, and there is no need to compare China's GDP with that of other nations. Even if China is expected to surpass the US in terms of GDP in 2025, China will still not have as much hard or soft power as the US. It is perhaps misleading and insufficient to say that US power is declining while China will become a dominant power in the near future. How good the two countries' relationship can become will depend highly on the extent to which both sides can and do trust each other. A promising and productive relationship will require both sides to foster realistic and objective perceptions of each other. If both sides hold the right perceptions and read each other correctly, the S&ED will make more significant progress and address more strategic issues to improve cooperation.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


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